Creation | Adrienne von Speyr | From The Boundless God
From all eternity, the Father is together with the Son and with the Holy Spirit. He reveals himself to them in a way that is completely divine and receives from them a divine answer. Nonetheless, when the Father created the world, he opened wide the sphere of the eternal in order to include within existence the sphere of the transient as well. He set forth something from his eternity, though not in order to leave what he had created without a connection to eternity, as a unity left to its own devices. God also received what he had created and, therefore, preserved a permanent relationship with his work. His will as Creator remained unchanged with respect to the world, and, in the act of creation, the Creator's being was disclosed to the world. He neither withdrew nor became indifferent, but rather he waited for an answer from the created.
His creation's first answer was to let itself be created, to let itself become a reality, one whose ultimate meaning was meant to rest in God but that also possessed meaning in its creaturely essence. God separated the water from the dry land, and, in this separation, the earth became an important symbol. The earth is the sure ground on which men can stand. For everything was planned for man, whom God created last of all. He handed over everything to him so that it would belong to him. This handing over was meant with the utmost sincerity and was never revoked. It placed man in a permanent relationship with the surrounding world, which was God's gift to him. In God's eyes, occupying man in this way was meant already to be like a prayer, for man was meant to see in created things what God had given him. He was to be able to do this by virtue of his senses and reason, in what he saw, heard, felt, and experienced. He was furnished with a sensory nature and with knowledge, and, through these, he can echo and adjust to the things over which he has dominion. However, God stands behind each and every perception and adjustment. This means, not that God allows himself to be restricted or tied down to the measure of things and experiences, but rather that his voice remains always audible. The more simple things are, the more conceivable God appears. It is not that he allows things to contain him; rather, they are signs of his presence, which can be neither diminished by the finitude of the world nor consigned to a particular space; it nonetheless remains true presence. This presence is something neither vague nor questionable: it is the presence of the Creator toward whom points the meaning that resides in created things. It is not that God's meaning is made finite in elements, in plants, and in animals, like something exhaustible; but things can be either quiet or loud reminders that the invisible Creator lives, has created them, and, far from abandoning them, has them permanently in his care. The human spirit, which experiences and contemplates these things, is reminded by their presence of God's existence.
The first beginnings of man's relationship with God lie in his relationship to things and to the hidden powers and secrets with which God has invested them for man's sake. Man is appointed as the lord of creation. He is to be permanently concerned with the things of this world in order to make them bend to his will and so to remain faithful to God's command and adjust to what God expects of him. But, through his growing knowledge of, and dominion over, things, he experiences that an infinite divine knowledge must stand hidden behind them; for the things themselves neither contain God nor betray his ultimate mysteries. They are scattered testimonies and hints that function as such because they are ordered to the searching and questioning of the human spirit. They are created for man to such an extent that they need him in order for their meaning to be revealed. It is therefore understandable that, throughout the millennia, man has never reached the point of being done with the earth and is shown, in ever new forms of work, things and laws that were always in existence in the world but that, having been revealed, lent a related historical meaning to subsequent generations of men. Man, who is created for the honor of God, also honors the Creator through his growing insight into the meaning that God has placed in things, a meaning that is unveiled slowly through the ages. This is the process that one tends to call progress, providing it is not divorced from the intentions of the Creator. Man should work and explore, not for the sake of mere domination and the power that comes with it, but rather in order to remain within the sphere of tasks assigned to him by God.
In addition to creating the earth, God created the sea, which he separated from the dry land and which remains a particularly eloquent symbol for the strength, mystery, and perpetual unfathomableness of God. Man will want to understand more and more about the sea as well and will probably be able to do so. And yet, the sea remains a special object of contemplation: its relative boundlessness and sameness in all its waves and change provides an allegory for God. When a human being surveys the sea, he looks into something unpredictable, something no longer finite; he experiences that behind everything he sees and intuits there is something "ever farther"; and when he alters his vantage point, this "farther" proves to be essentially the "same" as what he already knows. Whereas God created the earth to be hard and sandy, rocky and lush, fertile and covered in age-old ice, he gave to the sea, in all its raging depths, a quality of uniformity: sea water is the same everywhere, arid though no wave is ever identical to another, all waves are nonetheless similar and emerge from and into one another. But it is not just in contemplation of, but also in the struggle against, the sea that human beings are reminded urgently of God. Even if man manages to overcome the sea, he never feels he has mastered the element. Man is conscious of his mastery of terrestrial things: he can plough his fields as he sees best, just as his predecessors did; he can increase or impede the fertility of the land. Of course, man remains a mere servant of God even in this, since God either sends or denies the harvest. But God's predominance emerges more clearly in the image of the sea. Man can navigate it and catch its fish but cannot direct or cultivate it. Each wave tells him this; storm and stillness proclaim it to him, and both are allegories and reminders that provoke more profound reflection and enable him to be detached from himself, his own might, and his boundaries. In surveying the sea, a person who is accustomed to praying can recognize how much of himself God betrays through the sensory world, how loudly he calls and exhorts men, and how clearly he reveals his love of creation, which is as alive today as it was on the first day.
All that has been created should be experienced as a communication from God, above all of his greatness and his infinity. The one who creates is greater than his work. Should we try, in faith, to consider this work as the Father does but not get very far with the help of reason, we can try to do so with the help of love. Our own love, however, is not sufficient: what we, as believers, call love is at the most a poor likeness of that which God calls love. For this reason, God has disclosed to us his own love, and faith teaches us, not just to see this love, but to live in it. The more firmly we believe, the more profoundly we learn how to live out of love, not out of our love, but out of God's love, which can overwhelm us again and again because it is his. Even faith itself, through which we gain access to this love, is a gift of the triune God for us; and through faith we acquire a meaning for the Father's love hidden in things. In order to encounter this love, we must not limit our reflections to the divine proofs of love that we find in the Old and New Testaments; rather, we may dare to wonder at God's love in the creation that lies spread out before us.
The Father's action--which creation obviously seems to be--can be understood as the fruit of his eternal contemplation. He has divided his work into "days", thereby conforming himself to transient time, which he will give to us as our habitat, in order therein to separate and bring forth. This is already a sign of his love. He takes what be creates as his very own and fills it with what is his; his love moved him to make days that could be counted, and he places an infinite hope in them, for he does not find them good in some remote way; rather, he fills them with his own goods. If today we have doubts about the worth of our temporal, fleeting lives, we should look back to the magnificence of the first days, to each of which God gave its own mark, a unique content, up to and including the Sabbath, the day of the great contemplation of everything that had been done, a contemplation that God wanted to give to us as well. When Christ says, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", the possibility of this imitation rests on the perfection of the days of the world that God has created, days so good that they can become days divinely fulfilled through his love.
Not only the perfection of the created days but also the readiness of eternal life to support creaturely life in love are shown in the fact that God can make immediate use of those days. There is already a prelude in the first phase of the plan to what the Son of God will do for men when he, having become man, makes our days his own. The outline is already visible of the bridge that the Son will build from eternal life into transient time.
God uses the "days" in order further to create: he brings forth plants, animals, and, finally, man. These all proceed from his creating hand in a completeness that he himself begets by acknowledging everything to be very good. His contemplation now appears twofold: it is a reflection and judgment of creation; and he gives both forms of contemplation to us because they both convey something of God's essence. As Creator, he can only create good and does not let it run away from him; rather, he keeps it within his sight and judgment--that is, in a loving relationship to him.
Although these things are so very good, God gives them to man. He does not, however, talk to things: his first word is intended for man. Since we know that the Son is the Word who dwells with the Father, we also understand that, in addressing man, the Father establishes an initial relationship between the Son and man. Christians will experience through John that the word in Genesis was already a gift to them from the Father: a promise of the Son, who will some day become one among us, to the world. We can therefore understand ourselves as having come into being from the hand of the Father and into the Son's Spirit. Our sinful life, however, seems like a sad interlude belonging to us alone, an interlude the Father did not want and for which the Son makes amends. Anything that we do not live in faith and obedience to the Father, Son, and Spirit shrivels into an episode that is bracketed between the love of the Creator and that of the Redeemer. From the outset, therefore, we can say that God's mercy towers above our existence--above everything to which we can imagine this existence amounts--and that this mercy is given to the created world as its own.
The rest for contemplation on the seventh day is the Father's rest in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Just as the Son possesses the vision of the Father during his life on earth, so too does the Father possess the presence of the Son and Spirit during his creation and his rest. His triune life is neither altered nor interrupted by the creation. The Father shows, through the words he directs at men and through his confirmatory judgment, just how close the Son and Spirit already are to man and how greatly they share in the Father's work; so much so that the Incarnation of the Son and the sending forth of the Spirit are already contained and decreed invisibly in the visible work of creation. This is, therefore, the work of the one triune God, begun by the Father, who marks out, so to speak, the tasks whose execution will meantime not be fully transparent to us. The Son will use this divine communion as a model when he establishes the communion of saints. He will make of the Church a house into which he will invite the Father and the Spirit and into which he will send the Spirit, who lives in eternity with him and with the Father.
God stands in a threefold relationship with the first man: he is his Creator; he is his Father; he has made him into his image and likeness. As Creator, he has erected a great work, which in no way exhausts his power but rather leaves him free to take further measures as he sees best. But even his first work of creation imparts some idea of his superior grandeur, and thus the first time that man has someone whom he can address as "you", it is the Creator, a God who cares for him and who emerges as his Father by establishing this first primordial relationship. This is a relationship between the sublime and the negligible, between the mighty and the lowly. The relationship contains man's likeness to God, and man knows this. He is aware of embodying things that are the Creator's and the Father's. Man embodies an idea of the Father, and, when God appoints him to be lord over all created things, he initiates man into the mysteries of his fatherhood, sharing a power with him that originates from his own and furnishing him with these created things just as the Father has furnished himself with man. He has created things for men just as he created man for himself.
But it is not as something hopelessly finite that man, the image and likeness of God, confronts the infinite archetype, almost as if he were the last finite being at the end of a chain of finite beings. And even though man renounces the heavenly archetype when he sins, the Son of God will raise the end of the chain to heaven, for he will be both God and man on earth, will show to us a no less perfect image and likeness of the Father than he was in heaven from eternity. Though man will cloud his own image and likeness through sin and will distance himself increasingly from God, the Son will restore the image to its proper place--the place originally indicated to him by the Father--through his perfect accord and consubstantiality with the Father. Through his Incarnation, he will point to the Father and to his own divine being, not from a sublime height far above us, but in his life among us and in his staying with us permanently in the Eucharist, just as he stays and abides with the Father in heaven. He does not merely once and for all put the image back into its correct place in relation to its archetype, the Father; rather, he remains permanently efficacious among us even after his return to the Father: he is the living leaven who makes us rise up to the archetype. He may well bring creation more or less to a close upon his return to heaven, for on earth he has shown the Father the perfect human being. But, at the same time, he remains in his brothers, the children of the Father, in order to care for them and, in them, to show to the Father what he himself is. Though man may still feel greatly overwhelmed by the distance of guilt separating him from God, he now knows--almost against his will and ability--that he has to be the image of God, at least in his gift of self to the Son and lack of resistance to him who can recreate the image within him. However, when the Son proves himself capable of this, he makes it clear that he has also created together with the Father, that the character of creation is equally and originally his, and that, in assuming fallen man unto himself, he enters into a territory he has forever known and ruled. For the first Adam, the Son remained hidden in the Father, yet the Son knew that he was meant to become the second Adam. Therefore, the fact that he hid himself in the Father was already proper to the mystery of his Incarnation. Since the Father can only be seen in heaven, and no one has seen the Father except the Son, the Son revealed and showed himself so that man might become newly attentive to the Father's divinity through what was divine in him--though without attempting to separate Father and Son along this path of mediation: the Son wants to be the door and the entrance through whom the open vision of the Father is unveiled.
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Adrienne von Speyr was a 20th century Swiss convert, mystic, wife, doctor and author of numerous books on spirituality. She entered the Church under the direction of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Her writings, recognized as a major contribution to the great mystical writings of the Church, are being translated by Ignatius Press. Read about her life and work on her IgnatiusInsight.com author page.
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